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Where I Find My Zero Waste Consumables (Groceries and Food)

This week I headed off on my six-monthly journey up to the Swan Valley, which is the other side of Perth, to stock up on some bulk products that I simply can’t get anywhere else.

It made me think: there’s plenty of places I talk about often, because I use them often (such as my local bulk store, or my local veg box delivery).

But there are other places where I source zero waste items that I talk about less often.

If I’m going to paint a complete picture, I thought it might be helpful to explain where I source ALL the things I use.

Of course, if you live in Perth, these lists will probably be extra useful! If you’re not in Perth, hopefully it will give you some ideas about the kinds of places you might be able to source products in your own area.

At the very least, it might open your mind to new alternatives.

There’s a lot to say, so rather than overwhelm you, I’ve divided it up into sections. Today I’m talking about zero waste consumables (food and grocery items).

I’ll follow up next week with a post about consumable personal and cleaning products, and then with non-consumables (the buy-me-once type items) in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Where I Source Zero Waste Consumables

By consumables, I mean things that run out, get used up and need replacing. Things like food, personal care products, and cleaning products.

Whilst I source things from a number of different places, I’m not going to all the places all of the time. Some places I only visit twice a year. Others I visit weekly. Over time I’ve established a routine that works for me.

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping: Dry Goods

This is the one that gets talked about all the time, because food runs out more quickly than anything else (well, it does in my household)!

Bulk food stores are where I source all of my dry goods (pantry staples like rice, flour, lentils, pulses) and my liquid products (tahini, soy sauce, macadamia oil).

Specifically, I purchase about 95% of my bulk goods from The Source Bulk Foods (my local store is in Victoria Park, about 5 minutes from my house). They have a great range, the store is spotless and they stock a lot of local produce (I particularly like the Australian-grown nuts and quinoa, but plenty of their products are also home grown).

There are a few groceries I don’t buy from the Source Whole Foods:

I buy vermicelli pasta nests from Swansea Street Markets in East Victoria Park (The Source Bulk Foods don’t stock regular pasta, only the gluten-free kind).

I buy wakame seaweed (a bit of an obscure ingredient) and white vinegar for pickling from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle (the only place I’ve ever seen them both).

I occasionally have a moment of weakness and buy a bar of good quality dark chocolate wrapped in foil and paper from a local grocer, or even (if I’m desperate! It happens!) from the supermarket.

I buy coffee from local coffee place Antz Inya Pantz in East Victoria Park, who roast their own beans.

I source honey from my neighbour, who keeps bees.

I collect olives from public trees with a group of friends every April, and press them locally to get a year’s supply of olive oil.

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping: Fresh Produce

The fresh produce that buy is fruit and vegetables, bread, and deli items like olives.

I no longer buy fish, meat or dairy products for my personal consumption. I do buy pet mince, chicken necks and chicken frames for my greyhound from The Butcher Shop in the Park Centre, East Victoria Park. This butcher (like many independently owned businesses) is happy to accept and fill my own containers. I use old yoghurt tubs I sourced from my local Buy Nothing group as I don’t mind if these get lost. I usually drop the containers off and they will call me once they have been able to fill them for me to collect.

I have a homegrown veggie patch, which provides some of my fruit and veg – dependent on how much time I have and how much I can put into it. I’ve always got herbs (mint, parsley, oregano, thyme, coriander in winter and basil in summer), there’s always some kind of greens, capsicums, chillis and sweet potato.

There’s also a few fruit trees. Lemons are available almost all year round, there’s a passion fruit vine and at the moment, guavas and kumquats.

I order a veg box once a fortnight from The Organic Collective, based in Hamilton Hill, which is delivered direct to my doorstep.

I top my veg box up with fruit and veg shopping at Swansea Street Markets in East Victoria Park, who have an excellent range of loose produce (including fresh herbs, peas and beans, salad leaves and other harder-to-find items).

They also stock a lot of West Australian and Australian produce, and label their Country of Origins properly.

My friends have a market garden and fruit orchard, and run the Guildford Food Hub (in Guildford) on Saturday mornings. I sometimes get fruit from them.

I occasionally pop into the supermarket to top up things like onions, avocados and mushrooms.

Swansea Street Markets also has a great deli counter. I occasionally buy olives and other antipasto type things from here, using my own jars (which they happily weigh before they fill). They also sell cheese and cold cut meats.

If I’m in Fremantle, Kakulas Sister has an excellent deli counter also, and are happy to tare and fill containers.

I don’t go to the Farmers Market regularly, but when I do I look out for what’s in season: boxes of strawberries, boxes of tomatoes, loose cherry tomatoes and other hard-to-find-without-packaging items.

My two favourite markets are the Subiaco Farmers Market (open on Saturday mornings) and the Growers Green Farmers Market in Beaconsfield/South Fremantle (open on Sunday mornings.

If I’m at the Farmers Market, I always buy bread. My favourite Wild Bakery has a stall at both Subiaco and Growers Green. Otherwise their actual bakery is located in South Fremantle. I pop in when I’m in the area, or ask my friend who lives around the corner to pick up a loaf for me if we are planning to meet.

I also buy bread from my other favourite bakery Bread in Common (in Pakenham Street, Fremantle).

As neither are local to me, I tend to buy two loaves at a time and freeze one. If I run out, I don’t eat bread until I stock up again. There are other bakeries close to me, but I really like good bread, and the others just don’t compare.

I also make my own bread, but that tends to be a little seasonal.

Something that I buy as a treat occasionally is ice-cream. There’s an amazing ice-cream shop in Victoria Park called Pietro Gelateria, with a small-but-mighty vegan ice cream selection (most of their offering is traditional dairy ice cream).

One of my favourite things is the plastic-free ice creams on sticks, mostly for the novelty. I take a Pyrex to the store, they pop two in, and I bring them home for later.

 Zero Waste Groceries: Things I Make

I tend to make things if they are easy, far more delicious when made from scratch, and/or unavailable without plastic or excessive packaging.

Some of the simplest things I make are apple cider/apple scraps vinegar (literally an apple core, some water, a bit of sugar and some stirring), refrigerator pickles (a 10-minute job), pesto and hummus.

Back when I ate dairy, I’d make my own yoghurt (another ridiculously simple thing to make).

Things that take a little longer (but are oh-so worth it) are sourdough crackers and chickpea falafels. With falafels, I make a huge batch and freeze at least three-quarters. This also stops me eating the entire lot in one day.

Zero Waste Food: Takeaway

I rarely get takeaway. I prefer to eat in, and use real plates and metal reusable cutlery. I’m more likely to take home leftovers than actually order takeaway, and I always pack a reusable container when I head out, just in case.

I hope that’s given you some insight into the kinds of things I buy, and where from, and maybe some ideas for things you could incorporate into your own life. If you’re in Perth you might like to visit some of the places I’ve listed. If you’re not, maybe there’s something similar close to you.

In my experience, when it comes to plastic-free and zero waste living, there’s always a lot more options than we first expect.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything you’re trying to source that I haven’t covered? Anything you’ve had success with that you’d like to share? Anything that needs more explanation, or any tips you can add? Any other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

When Is A Plastic-Free Aisle Not Plastic-Free?

A supermarket aisle in the Netherlands made headlines last month, because it was the “world’s first plastic-free aisle”. I saw the headline, but I didn’t bother to read much further, expecting to see the kind of thing so many times before – neatly laid out rows of bulk bins, where customers can use paper bags or fill their own containers and thus avoid plastic packaging.

It was only when a reader shared one of the articles with me and asked for my thoughts that I actually looked at what was behind the headlines.

What I saw was not what I thought I’d see.

This is what the “plastic-free aisle” looked like:

No. Not what I was expecting either.

If there’s one thing that makes me mad, it’s misleading claims and incorrect science. (Okay, that’s two things, but close enough.) Seeing this aisle set alarm bells ringing in my curious mind.

Let’s look at the details.

The PLASTIC FREE™ Aisle: What Does It Really Mean?

The “plastic-free aisle” is more correctly called the PLASTIC FREE™ aisle. Specifically, it is a collaboration between Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza (who own 74 organic supermarkets in the Netherlands) and an environmental campaign group called A Plastic Planet. The clever branding was designed by London graphic design studio Made Thought.

The PLASTIC FREE™ name is a figurative trademark, meaning the stylisation and graphic design of the logo are protected. There is no scientific meaning attached to the name or trademark; it’s more like a brand name.

On their website, A Plastic Planet describes the two groups of materials they call PLASTIC FREE™:

“Bio-Materials: Materials include wood pulp, plant cellulose, food waste, grass, algae, and mushrooms. These materials can be made into trays, punnets and clear, flexible films that look and behave like conventional plastic but can be composted into biomass. A Plastic Planet supports compostable plastics that comply with the necessary certification standards: EN 13432 or OK Home Compostable.”

“Other Materials: Metal, paper, carton board and glass are also plastic free.”

In short, the PLASTIC FREE™ logo does not include uncertified biodegradable plastic, but does include certified compostable plastic.

Often companies who use compostable plastics try to distance themselves from conventional plastics by referencing their plant-based origins (using terms like cornstarch or sugar-based). Or they describe themselves as plastic-like, rather than saying they are plastic. However, compostable plastic is classified as plastic #7 on the ASTM International Resin Identification Coding System (RIC), which is used to identify plastic resins.

Find out more about compostable plastics here.

The Issues That The PLASTIC FREE™ Aisle Doesn’t Address

Certified compostable plastic is different to fossil-fuel based plastic in some ways, but not all. It is not without issues, either.

1. The Language is Confusing (and Potentially Misleading)

The language of plastics, bioplastics and compostable plastics is confusing for many. A Plastic Planet do a good job of outlining what they mean and don’t mean by PLASTIC FREE™ on their website.

But most people glimpsing the headline or even heading to the store won’t be visiting the website.

Even on the website, there’s some confusing inormation. For example, they feature a video with a supplier holding a green meat tray and saying that in 12 weeks, the tray will disappear. That’s impossible science. Compost, degrade, dissolve, evaporate – call it what it is. Nothing disappears.

The stories about the first PLASTIC FREE™ aisle in the media are not always accurate, either, as different meanings and interpretations are made.

Some reporting claims that all the plastic packaging is 100% compostable. Technically, products certified to EN13432 and Ok Home Composting standards are required to break down by a minimum of 90%, not necessarily 100% (the remainder is “residue”).

This matters, because people believe we have a perfect solution, which is not the case.

2. Plant-Based Compostable Plastic Still Creates Litter

One of the big issues with certified compostable plastic is that it is certified compostable under composting conditions. That is not the same as out in the open environment.

Certified compostable packaging is just as capable of causing litter, blocking a drain, suffocating an animal or being mistaken for food as a regular plastic packaging.

3. Compostable Plastic Doesn’t Break Down in the Oceans

No compostable plastic to date has been shown to break down in the marine environment.

As plastic packaging is lightweight, floats, blows in the wind and can be carried by animals, it ends up in the ocean. Compostable plastic is no different to regular plastic in these properties.

4. Compostable Plastic Needs to Be Composted

Compostable plastic needs to be composted to break down, but consumers are often not aware of this. Landfills do not have composting conditions.

Additionally, some commercial composting facilities do not permit compostable plastics, because they do not run their cycles long enough to actually break down the plastic.

As an example, if a green meat tray takes 12 weeks to break down, but the composting cycle only runs for 10 days, the resulting compost will still have green meat tray plastic pieces throughout.

Unless there are systems in place for consumers to compost their own packaging, or companies to accept this packaging for commercial composting, there’s limited value in selling products in compostable plastic.

5. It Doesn’t Reduce Resource Consumption

Whatever it’s made from, single-use packaging is still single-use packaging. On this scale, single-use packaging is a huge waste of resources.

Growing huge amounts of food (sugar, corn, tapioca) with the sole purpose of synthesizing it into packets so that food items can be neatly displayed with predetermined portions in perfect rows in the supermarket? The land, energy and carbon footprint of that is huge.

When there’s so many people in the world who don’t have enough to eat, there’s also an ethical question around using land and food on this scale to create packaging.

What A Plastic-Free Aisle Should Really Look Like

The answer to the problems of too much packaging, plastic in the ocean, litter and carbon emissions isn’t a different type of single-use packaging.

The answer is moving away from single-use packaging.

The answer is in the return of return-and-refill schemes, container deposits, bulk stores… and just not wrapping every single thing in a package regardless of whether it is actually necessary.

Plastic-free aisles already exist. Bulk stores around the world are demonstrating that real plastic-free aisles are possible. Milk is being sold from dispensers and bottles refilled. Fruit and veg shops are stocking produce without plastic.

The Source Bulk Foods has pioneered the plastic-free aisle in Australia, with more than 40 stores, and have recently expanded into New Zealand and the UK.

Plenty of fruit and veg stores (such as my local Swansea St Markets) have shown that it’s perfectly possible to sell fruit and vegetables without needing to package them.

Even my local (Coles) supermarket has a bulk aisle. Okay, so they haven’t ditched the plastic bags just yet, but it’s progress.

The answer isn’t trying to tweak the current system. The answer is in changing the system. Recognising that single-use packaging in any form is a waste, and trying to find solutions that mean no packaging at all.

The question then, is how do we make bulk stores and return-and-refill systems more accessible (location, practicality, affordability) to the masses?

Solutions already exist. Real solutions that focus on rethinking, reducing and reusing.

That’s where the focus needs to be. The more that these kinds of stores and practices are supported, the more they will grow, the more people they will reach, and the more change will happen.

If we really want to tackle the plastic pollution problem, this is what we need to be working on.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What does a plastic-free aisle look like to you? How do you feel about compostable plastic packaging? Do you have access to commercial composting facilities in your area? Where would you like to see change? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

Is “Zero Waste” Even Real?

For me, living zero waste means trying to create as little waste (and that includes recycling) as possible. Refusing single-use items, avoiding plastic, reducing what I purchase, and choosing items that are well made and designed to last.

For bigger, one-off purchases I try to find what I want second-hand.

For the regular, consumable things that I purchase week-to-week (think groceries, personal care products, cleaning products), I try to buy unpackaged. This means unpackaged fruit and veg from the grocer, bringing my own containers to the deli and a reusable bag to the bakery, and my own jars or reusable produce bags to the bulk store.

This way I can buy what I need without bringing home any unnecessary packaging. It means I’m not sending anything from my weekly shop to landfill: everything I purchase, I consume.

Zero waste. At least at my end.

Or is it?

What Does Zero Waste Actually Mean?

Zero waste is both a lifestyle choice and an industrial design term. Whilst they both have the same philosophy – elimination of waste to landfill / incineration – what that looks like in practical terms is a little different.

Zero waste needs to be a whole systems approach, looking at production of goods in terms of systems and design. It looks at everything, from the materials selected, how they are sourced, how they are processed, how they are transported, how they are used, and how they are re-used.

For zero waste, products need to be created in a way that allows them to be reused, not disposed of. This is the idea of the circular economy.

The circular economy is the goal, but it is not the reality. Yet.

Zero waste as a lifestyle is all about what we can do as individuals. Typically, we aren’t designing our own products. We are the end users. Our power is in choosing the most ethical, sustainable options that we can when we need to make purchases.

Supporting the companies doing the right thing, and boycotting those that do not.

These options aren’t always perfect. But they are better.

So when I say that my weekly shop is zero waste, I mean that none of the products I purchased came in single-use packaging. There is nothing going to landfill. I didn’t create any packaging waste in the process.

That’s not to say that there was no waste anywhere in the process.

That’s not to say the farmers didn’t use plastic when growing, harvesting or packing their crops.

That’s not to say suppliers didn’t use plastic to transport their goods.

There will likely be waste somewhere (and possibly, in many places) in the production and distribution of these goods.

But reducing waste at the end point – the point where we, as concerned citizens and empowered communities, can vote with our dollars about the kind of world we wish to see – that’s a start.

It’s an important start.

The zero waste movement is about doing what we can. A step in the right direction is better than no steps.

How can we take the second step without taking the first?

Zero Waste Progress Comes Before Zero Waste Perfection

It makes me sad that people sometimes dismiss the zero waste movement because they want to see perfection. They cannot see the value in zero waste progress.

Why does it have to be all-or-nothing?

I purchase my groceries packaging free from The Source Bulk Foods, an Australian bulk store which encourages shoppers to bring their own containers and refuse packaging. I describe this way of shopping as zero waste.

More than once, some cheerful soul has popped up in a comment to inform me that it isn’t zero waste because there will be waste created upstream.

I don’t dispute this statement.

I just think it’s the wrong place to be focusing.

I know that, prior to my 2012 plastic “epiphany”, I would go to the supermarket and buy all my groceries packaged in plastic.

I would buy individual pots of yoghurt, and “fun size” chocolate bars, and single serve drinks, and pre-wrapped cereal bars.

Occasionally I would go to the bulk store for spices, and when I did I would take a fresh plastic bag off the shelf, and buy my two teaspoons of spice using that bag.

{Cringe.}

I don’t shop this way any more, and I haven’t since 2012. Bulk stores are what enabled me (and countless others) to change this. They provided a solution by making package-free groceries accessible. Without them, avoiding single-use packaging would be much harder.

I’d like to tell you that the bulk stores receive all their bulk goods in reusable, returnable containers. I’d like to tell you that they don’t generate any waste. But that’s not the case.

Yet.

I mentioned the circular economy earlier. As I said, we’re not there yet. Bulk stores are enabling us (the grocery shoppers) to purchase without waste. They create waste so we don’t have to (and create far less than if each of us purchased these same products in packaging week after week).

Less, but not zero.

Bulk stores now need to work with their suppliers to find ways of receiving goods without single-use packaging.

The good news is, that’s beginning to happen.

As more and more of us support bulk stores, and demand for this kind of shopping grows, there’s more incentive for (and more gentle pressure on) bulk stores to start the conversations and take that next step.

If demand is there, it will begin to happen more and more.

We take the first step, and they take the next step.

Moving towards a more sustainable future with a circular economy and true zero waste.

That’s the future. Maybe the near future, but maybe not. In the meantime, I’ll continue to play my part and support these businesses choosing the better option. Yes, I’ll buy my groceries packaging-free, and I’ll say my shopping is zero waste.

Even though I know that bulk stores do create waste. Suppliers create waste. Farmers create waste.

Am I saying that zero waste isn’t real? If we’re talking about it on a technical level on an economic scale, in terms of definitions and what-not, then it would be fair to say that zero waste isn’t real.

But I don’t want to talk about it like that, because I don’t think about it like that. For me, the meaning of zero waste isn’t how it’s characterized in dictionaries or interpreted by textbooks.

For me, zero waste is about values, ideals and beliefs. It’s a guiding principle for the choices I make. Choices that help create a better, fairer, more sustainable future for people and the planet.

Whether or not it technically exists, zero waste is very real.

Let’s not get bogged down in the minutiae. Technical details don’t matter. What matters is that we do our imperfect best, support those companies taking the next step where we can, and champion better solutions where we see them.

Small steps, in the right direction, together.

Whether we believe in zero waste or not, we all have a part to play. Waste is something we all have control over, and can do something about. So let’s do something about it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What does zero waste mean to you? Do you use the term yourself, or steer well clear, and why? Has your understanding and perception of zero waste changed over time? In a good way, or a not so good way? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Can You Live Plastic-Free without Bulk Stores?

One of the most common challenges I hear from people who would like to embrace plastic-free or zero waste living, is that they don’t live near a bulk store. Access to bulk stores definitely makes plastic-free living infinitely easier – but that doesn’t mean that without them, it’s impossible.

In fact, there are still plenty of things that you can do to reduce your plastic footprint, wherever you live, wherever you shop and however busy you are.

Here’s a list of my top 8 (as always, feel free to add your own ideas to the comments below).

Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing because you cannot do everything.

This is so important! Just because there isn’t a bulk store near you, that doesn’t mean that you should give up before you begin.

Remember that every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still in existence today, so every single piece of plastic you refuse is one less piece entering our environment.

We just need to start where we are, with what we have, and do what we can. Even if you can only refuse a few things, or make a couple of changes, it all counts. If we all did the best we could, think how much better the world would be!

Don’t stress about what you can’t change, look for what you can change.

Eat more fresh vegetables!

Apologies for sounding like your Nan here, but seriously – food packaging accounts for such a significant amount of the waste we produce, and one of the easiest ways to reduce this is to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Look for unpackaged fruits and vegetables, or if you still need to buy in packaging, try to choose the bigger packs (there will be less plastic overall).

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a great high-carb alternative to pasta and rice, and are easy to find plastic-free.

If you don’t know how to cook something, look on the internet for simple recipes. This is where I’m going to offer different advice from your Nan – you do not need to boil everything for 30+ minutes! Plenty of veggies can be roasted (try carrots, broccoli and cauliflower), stir-fried, broiled, baked, sautéed – or eaten raw.

Zero Waste Vegetables Plastic Free July Treading My Own Path

My local veg box delivery comes mid-week and direct to my door (convenience shopping with a difference) and it’s an easy way for me to get produce that’s plastic-free and locally grown.

Also, many veggies can be frozen once cooked. If you live in a small household and don’t want to eat an entire pumpkin this week, chop into cubes, roast it as usual and freeze what you don’t need. Other vegetables, such as leeks and broccoli, can be blanched for 1-3 minutes, and then frozen.

This guide lists how to freeze a number of vegetables and might be a helpful starting point.

Bring your own reusable bags – not just your main shopping bags

As well as your own shopping bags, bring reusable produce bags for all your loose produce items, and a cloth bag for any bread you need.

You can find produce bags available for sale online (made of cloth or mesh, some pre-labelled and others plain) – or you can make your own using your own fabric or even old net curtains!

Fruit and Veggie Produce Bags Treading My Own Path

Reusable produce bags are a great way to buy loose products at the store without needing to take those pesky plastic bags!

If you forget, and you’re buying too many items to simply pop them in your trolley loose, you can often find paper mushroom or potato bags so use these as an alternative to plastic.

Look for packaging in glass, cardboard and paper, and adapt where you can

When I first started out with plastic-free living, I continued to shop at the supermarket. Whilst I found most of the pre-prepared products were packaged in plastic, I found many wholefoods and single ingredients that were packaged in glass and cardboard. For example, in my local store I could buy pasta and couscous in cardboard packaging, as well as oats and rice, but I could not buy quinoa or bulgar wheat.

I began buying more oats over breakfast cereal; eating porridge for breakfast and using more oats in baking. In glass jars I found passata so I began to buy this rather than chopped tomatoes in Tetra-Paks (which are difficult to recycle) or tins (which are plastic-lined and contain BPA).

After all, passata is just chopped tomatoes that have been blended! (Later I discovered that simply using fresh tomatoes and quickly chopping saved packaging dilemmas altogether.)

How far you take this will depend on whether you have dietary restrictions or fussy eaters in your household, but even one change is a step in the right direction.

Remember, you can still buy bulk within the store

I’m not talking about buying huge quantities of food you probably won’t eat here, I‘m referring to choosing one product over individual portions and single serves. Even if the bigger one still comes in packaging, it will be far less than all those individual portions added together.

Rather than buying individual pots of yoghurt, buy a 1kg tub (or bigger) and split into smaller containers at home.

Rather than snack portions of raisins or crackers, buy a big pack and divide up yourself.

Rather than buying individual slices of cheese, or grated cheese, buy a big block and chop or grate at home (tip – you can freeze cheese so there’s no reason why you can’t buy a big block and freeze what you won’t use straightaway for later).

Aside from saving the plastic, you’ll save a huge amount on your grocery bill. Check the price per kilo of the bulk items versus the “convenience” items and you’ll find that convenience comes at a price – and you won’t just be saving the environment with these choices!

Supermarket or not – bring your own containers!

It’s possible to take your own containers to the counters at the supermarket or your local stores: the butcher, fishmonger, cheese shop or deli. Make sure they are clean, and explain why you’re doing it as you hand your containers over.

Confidence is everything – act like you’ve done it a million times before, and it is the most normal thing to do in the world!

If you’re unsure that they will be accepted, or feel really nervous, you can always phone the store in advance and ask if they’d be happy to take your own clean containers (be sure to tell them why).

You may find the odd place that isn’t willing to help, but most are happy to support this kind of shopping. If they have restrictions, find out what they are. (They may be happy to use containers for pre-cooked products, but not raw, for example. They may be happy to fill your own containers, but only if you drop them off by a certain time, or on a certain day.)

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

If a staff member is unwilling to comply, it may be that you simply need to check with the manager (they may be fearful of losing their job, and a quick conversation can sort this out).

If the store is definitely against it, you could push higher up if they are a chain or have a Head Office, or simply take your business elsewhere. If you do receive a “no”, keep it in mind and try again in a few months – something may have changed!

If places aren’t willing to comply, there may be the option of the staff wrapping your item in paper and you putting the paper-wrapped product into your sealed container yourself. It’s always worth asking if they have paper behind the counter.

Refuse single-serve and single-use items

“Refusing” is such a big part of the plastic-free living journey, and we can remove so much plastic from the environment just by making this simple choice. Refusing bottled water and carrying our own bottle and refilling from the tap; choosing to dine in rather than get takeaway or bringing our own containers; refusing straws; refusing individual sachets of sauce, butter or those tiny little portions of milk… it all makes a difference.

Carrying your own water bottle or coffee cup and a reusable straw is a great alternative if you’re often out, and a great way to start conversations. Simply asking at the cafe if you can have a splash of milk directly into your tea or a little bit of butter cut directly from the block rather than the single-serve portions is a surprisingly easy way to avoid plastic and make a point.

Go outside and pick up litter

No matter where you live, what shops are available to you or what your budget is, or how much time you have to spare, you can do this. Simply go out of your front door and onto your street with a bag, and pick up all the plastic litter you come across.

You may prefer to go to the beach or alongside a river, if you have one close by, but wherever you choose to go, I guarantee there will be some litter. Whether you opt for a 2 minute beach clean, simply commit to pick up 3 things, or decide to take a 30 minute walk and see what you come across, it all makes a difference.

Pick up any plastic items that you find, and then dispose of them responsibly. You’ll be stopping that plastic getting ingested by wildlife or making its way to the ocean, and making your local environment a more pleasant place to be. You’ll probably feel a lot more determined to avoid single-use items afterwards, too!

Treading My Own Path 30 Minute Litter Pick Up Litterati Take3 July 2016

I picked this up in 30 minutes simply by walking around my local streets.

Whatever you can do, you really must know that what you do makes a difference. The smallest actions can have the biggest impacts, and choosing just one thing to change is better than changing nothing at all.

The planet, the turtles and the plastic-free community; we will all thank you for it. Don’t let a lack of local bulk stores stand in your way. It really doesn’t matter how far you take this.

What matters is that you try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you struggling to find bulk stores near you? What items do you struggle to find without plastic packaging? What have been your biggest dilemmas and challenges? What have been your best successes and greatest a-ha moments? What are you currently working towards changing? Any other suggestions for those who live far from bulk options? If you are lucky enough to have bulk options near you, are there still items that you struggle with? Do you have any others that you’d add to this list? Any other thoughts or comments? Please tell me what you think in the comments below!

Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

A couple of months ago I was at an event, and a friend came bounding up to tell me she had someone she wanted me to meet – a lady who’d recently moved from Sydney to Perth who was passionate about plastic-free living. I went over and introduced myself, and told her that if she had questions for plastic-free shopping, I would be happy to help.

She asked me if I had a list of all the places to shop in bulk. Awkward silence. No, I don’t have a list. It’s all in my head!

I realise that storing all this useful information about local zero waste stores in my head is really not the best place for it, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to share it.

I didn’t think this website was the best place, as I talk about other things besides waste and also, my audience is global. It needs to be accessible to people who live locally without boring everyone who isn’t. I’m pretty sure for those of you who don’t live nearby, hearing about where to buy bulk oats or olive oil in Perth on a weekly basis would get very tiresome!

The other issue is that compiling a list like that and keeping it updated is a big job. Perth doesn’t have a huge population (1.3 million) but it does occupy a rather large area – the same size as Greater London. That means that there are actually quite a lot of bulk stores scattered about the place.

Whilst I know about a lot of them, I clearly don’t know them all. A collaborative approach would be much better, allowing people to add the info that they know… but was that getting a little complicated?

In the end, there was a simple solution. Facebook Groups. After all, pretty much everyone uses Facebook, it’s free to set up a group, it’s possible to upload files and create documents, and anyone who’s a member can edit them.

Plus there’s an opportunity to share images, ask questions, post useful links and connect with others. Perfect!

So I’d like to introduce Zero Waste + Plastic free Living, Perth, Western Australia (the Facebook Group):Zero Waste + Plastic Free Living, Perth, Western AustraliaEverything (pretty much) that is stored in my head regarding shopping plastic-free and zero waste in Perth has been added to this page. I’ll also be hanging out there if people have questions or want help. So if you live in Perth, join us!

I’d absolutely love it if you can add your own nuggets of wisdom and pieces of knowledge to make this page really comprehensive and useful to our community : )

Most of this information is about stores that sell in bulk. Just in case you’re not sure how shopping this way actually works, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the “how to” of bulk shopping.

How to Shop at Bulk Stores

  • The first thing to know is that zero waste shopping is about shopping “from bulk” rather than “in bulk”. It’s not about buying 60kg of oats at a time. Zero waste bulk stores are those that sell their products loose, usually in barrels, drums, plastic containers or sacks. With zero waste bulk stores, there may be a minimum weight for purchases, but that is usually so that the products register on the scale.
  • Bulk stores are not packaging free themselves: they buy products in packaging, but in large quantities. Their customers don’t contribute further to packaging waste if they bring their own bags and containers. The amount of packaging required for one bulk sack is far less than if that product was split into several thousand small packages, each with their own label.
  • You are more than welcome (and usually encouraged) to bring your own bags to fill, although often bulk stores will have paper and even plastic bags available. Container are more suitable for some products (think oils, pastes and anything very fine). If you bring your own jars or containers, you should ask someone at the cash register to weigh your container before you fill it. You should also know the volume of your container as some products are sold by volume rather than weight. Measure it out before you get to the store.
  • Don’t mix products in bags, even if they are the same price unless there is a sign that tells you it is okay to do so. Stores need to keep track of what they sell to order more and avoid running out, so putting 3 different products into one bag isn’t helpful!
  • Some stores will ask you to write the products or stock numbers on bags. If you have your own bags, you can write these on your phone or shopping list as you go round to keep track.
  • At the checkout, be as helpful as possible. Tell the shop assistant what is in each bag, especially if they aren’t see-through!
  • When you get home, it can be helpful to pop any grains, pulses and beans (and any flours from these) into the freezer for 24 hours to kill any weevils or eggs that might be in your products. Whether you do this depends on how fresh you think the items are, how quickly you intend to use them up… and how bothered you are by extra protein ; )
  • Whilst bulk stores are set up for people bringing their own containers, many other places are actually open to the idea – they probably haven’t thought of it before. Butchers, fishmongers, cafes and delis are places where you can bring your own containers. You just need to explain clearly what you’re doing (can you put the product directly in my container?) and why (I’m trying to avoid using any plastic or disposable packaging) before you hand over your container. The why is important if you don’t want your glass container popped in a plastic bag or sealing with cling wrap once it’s filled! Tips: If you’re nervous or worried you’ll be rejected, avoid busy periods and if there’s anyone waiting, let them go first. Smile, act like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing and go for it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips to add? Anything I’ve missed off the list? Any facepalm moments you’d like to share about your experiences of trying to buy groceries without packaging? Any lessons learned or benefit of hindsight moments? Please leave me a comment telling me your thoughts below!